In the course of reporting a story on a Democrat committee meeting that ran in Sunday's Southeast Missourian, we learned much about how Missouri's open meetings and records law applies to political party committees that will nominate Congressional candidates.
Democrats at first wanted to hold a closed forum for committee members only. No press and no public. By Saturday night the plan had changed. A text message to me from state Rep. Steve Hodges stated he received an email indicating the forum would be open. Good thing, since over the weekend we were also able to determine that political party committees are, in fact, public governmental bodies, and therefore must abide by the Missouri Sunshine Law.
But we were told Friday by staff in the AG's office there is no case law and the office has offered no opinions on the matter. Not so.
The link below, which was sent to us by a local attorney, contains an opinion
stating that the committees are subject to the Sunshine Law.
Also in the course of our reporting, we contacted University of Missouri-Columbia political science professor Marvin Overby. He gave us some historical context on political party committees as public governmental bodies. Interestingly, Overby's analysis connects the questions we have about the 8th Congressional District nomination process to a landmark civil rights decision.
In a 1944 case, Smith vs. Allwright, Thurgood Marshall, acting as chief counsel for the NAACP, successfully challenged "white primaries," which prevented African Americans from voting in some Southern states. Marshall later became the Supreme Court's first African-American justice. In the case, the Supreme Court found parties to be "quasi-official organizations," and therefore subject to federal law when it came to holding primaries.
"It is not clear whether or not that sort of logic could be extended further to non-primary selection processes, especially in the case of special elections like this," Overby said. "But the logic laid out does say that the government has the ability to regulate these things."
The Missouri Sunshine Law applies to quasi-public bodies as well as public governmental bodies.
Update, 4:35 p.m. Monday: We heard from the AG's office this afternoon. Spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said the office did find an opinion related to whether committees are public governmental bodies, but did not provide the opinion because it wasn't "on point."